PHILIPPI, W.Va. — The 14-year-old student that held a classroom hostage with a gun at Philip Barbour High School Tuesday afternoon was described by his pastor that helped negotiate a nonviolent end to the situation as a kid who felt pushed too far by bullying.
“He doesn’t have a history of violence, he doesn’t have a history of being crazy. He’s just a quiet kid with some normal teenage issues,” Pastor Howard Swick with Haven of Hope Ministry in Philippi explained on Wednesday’s “MetroNews Talkline”, but said that the boy felt he had to do something “When normal teenage issues meet extreme everyday bullying and fearing for his life to got to school because he’s going to get stabbed in the hallway or something.”
No one within the youth ministry that the student participated in was quite aware he was being bullied until the day before when Swick’s daughter –a senior at PBHS– physically stood between him and a group of students who were “getting a little rough” and threatening him.
The next day, the student attended his normally scheduled class at approximately 1:30 p.m. with 27 other students and one teacher when he allegedly pulled out a gun and began pointing it at different individuals.
“He had a .380 caliber pistol and he retrieved it from home,” Lt. Michael Baylous with State Police said. “I don’t know how it was secured if it was secured at the house, but it was accessible to him.”
The school was immediately put on lockdown as the staff went through the set protocol of evacuating the remainder of the 724-member student body to the football field.
The teacher being held hostage was reportedly able to keep the student calm until authorities arrived.
Negotiators from the Philippi Police Department and State Police were able to talk the student into releasing the hostages after 45 minutes and then began working over the next hour and a half to diffuse the situation without violence, as he was threatening to harm himself.
A major factor into the resolution was when Cpl. Harmon made an appeal to the student’s religious background.
“He started taking it into the spiritual realm at one point and the suspect wanted to talk to his own pastor,” Baylous said. “His own pastor came in and that is when he decided to surrender.”
It was then that Swick was called in and escorted to the door. He began encouraging the boy and telling him even though he had made a mistake, it wasn’t going to get any worse on his watch.
“Finally, I just told him, I said ‘This is how it’s going to end, you put the gun down, I will come in, I will give you a hug and I will personally walk you into an ambulance.’ The FBI guy behind me is like, he says ‘We will honor what the pastor just said. You do what he said and we’ll honor it.’”
The student removed the clip from the gun, placed it on a desk, opened the door, put his hands up as Swick gave him a hug and escorted him to an ambulance after police put handcuff on the boy.
Swick described the moment as surreal and felt it was “divine appointment” that he be on the scene.
The student was transported to the hospital by ambulance to be evaluated and students were released to their parents and afternoon buses.
Lt. Baylous praised the effort of all those involved to bring the situation to a nonviolent conclusion.
“This really was a team effort,” he said. “Everyone from law enforcement, first responders, fire departments, even the community members there, parents and school personnel. Everyone there responded in an awesome manner.”
Charges against the student are being pursued, according to Barbour County prosecuting attorney Leckta Poling.
After appearing in a special hearing before Barbour County Circuit Court Judge Alan Moats on a juvenile petition, he was initially charged with 28 counts of wanton endangerment, one count of making terroristic threats and one count of possessing a firearm on school premises.
“I really pray that this isn’t the end,” Swick said. “I pray that he gets the punishment that he deserves but also the help he deserves. He is a juvenile and I’m hoping that 10 years down the road this isn’t going to plague him the rest of his life.”
The boy is being held at the J.M. “Chick” Buckbee Juvenile Center in Hampshire County awaiting further action by the court.
The investigation into the incident is being conducted jointly by State Police, the Barbour County Sheriff’s Office and Philippi Police.